Africa Fashion Roundtable talk at the House of Lords

Posted on December 14, 2011


On Thursday 8th December after a very interesting research and resting break to The beautiful Gambia, (see our feature) I attended the House of Lords for a Roundtable discussion on Africa Fashion and Textiles. We recently were invited for a talk at the House of Lords on Ethical Fashion but this discussion event was with a difference and thus quite important for Africa Fashion Guide.


The event was organised by the Ethical Fashion Forum, The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ethical Fashion and was host was the APPG representative and also MadeBy Ambassador Baroness Lola Young. Including members from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, APPGS informally meet together in order to discuss a particular issue of concern.

I was invited to be a speaker on the panel alongside MantisWorld – who gave an overview of starting up and creating a garment factory in Africa; ASOS GreenRoom and ASOS Africa buyer – who spoke about how this initiative made a difference for the real people who made the product; Cotton Made in Africa – who highlighted the cotton story of Africa (an area very close to my heart and one of the reasons why I started Africa Fashion Guide) and Comic Relief – talking of the programs and funding available by them for enterprise projects in Africa. We were all there to tell our stories, answer questions and above all inspire and motivate attendees to the opportunities already existing and those that have made an impact to Africa’s fashion and textile industry.

Alongside this the Ethical Fashion Forum presented their very informative and deeply researched SOURCE platform. The first if its kind as a sustainability tool for the industry as well as their new Fellowship 500 program which aims to unite 500 pioneering innovators in fashion and sustainability.

Participants ranged from professionals within CSR, buying roles, retailers, industry bodies, sourcing and small businesses. These included Choolips, Drapers, EMAP, Pure London, Roland Mouret, ASOS, Considered Style Consultancy and more.

madam wokie image

In talking about my work developing Africa Fashion Guide I presented a list of designers who are making an impact thgough design and textile innovation such as Nigeria’s Jewel by Lisa and Ituen Basi, recognised as pioneers in using Ankara (wax print cloth); Ethiopia’s Lemlem by model Liya Kebede, Nigeria’s Kem Kem Studio and Sierra Leone’s Madam Wokie  (image above) who all are innovators in using locally produced handwoven cloth.

fashion by mia

I also mentioned companies such as Nearfar, Mayamiko, Johari, Soko Kenya, One Mango Tree and Made (who feature in my book Fashion Africa – published Sept 2011) and their social awareness initiatives using fashion and textile trade to support local communities in African countries. Lastly I spoke briefly on Mia by Mia Nisbet and Trashy Bags who work specifically on waste issue in Malawi and Ghana respectively.

Discussions soon started and I mentioned the importance of Africa Fashion Guide being THE well needed platform that is an information, network and sourcing base for Africa’s fashion and textile industry. Being that bridge that connects buyers, tailors, factories, craftspeople, suppliers, students, designers, and more In Africa to those in Europe. With an aim to discuss and help businesses focus on sustainability and CSR policies within their work too.

Mantisworld tells the room that ‘Africa loses $28.4bn a year from shrinking trade – more than the total aid and debt relief it recovers’ highlighting that there are financial problems in Africa and above all lack of trade issues too. With just 1% of global manufacturing done in Africa (according to UNCTAD) and less than 1% apparel imports coming from Africa proves a huge problem OR it can be seen as a huge potential and untapped possibility for entrepreneurs.

In Tanzania where MantisWorld is based less than 20% of people there are employed. With studies showing that 1 job in the garment sector creates at least 5 jobs presents this industry, and one that is very important to local employment levels. It is one that has a complete supply chain from cotton to garments and thus increases value MantisWorld tells us.

We are told about a new cotton program in Burkina Faso that will work alongside weavers as well as projects funded by money provided through the Nelson Mandela Children Fund too.

The conversation, discussions and questions soon lead to the area of politics and how this area affects Africa’s textile trade industry and also the area of trade over aid as well as the lack of knowledge of development with new companies setting up design projects in Africa often falling through. This was obviously all a passionate area to discuss and many opinions and factual information was brought up.

Lastly the topic went interestingly to the UK skill set and the UK textile industry dying out and so the need to increase and campaign more for Made in England clothing and thus the development of apprenticeship skills. A point was also raised that there lacks a younger generation of apprenticeships and that whilst there is a skill set for sewing in Africa it is not as in-depth as it could be and strangely enough both the UK and the African continent lack growing manufacturing skills. This sounds like a major issue and something that came up on my Gambia trip with the craft skills such as weaving where the younger generation lack an interest in age-old skills, and so appears a global need for a Save our Skills campaign as the Drapers UK campaign is called.

Overall a well attended event – small and intimate but full of high-end professionals. The opportunity to break out into groups such as Press, Suppliers, Small businesses etc, was one where networking could take place and more discussions could go on in-depth. It was here that I made new connections and one possible new projects important for you African designers and I will discuss this into the new year.

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It is discussions like this that make the difference as they inspire and also highlight the issues faced and experienced by those on the ground, to those parliamentarians who can make a difference. But as I pressed that today Africa is a growing industry and market that not only is doing things but which wishes to make it happen for themselves. It surely is exciting times for African fashion and textiles and so we encourage you to stay connected as we bring you the best from this industry with a focus on fashion business, trade and sustainability.

Author: Jacqueline Shaw

Posted in: Fashion